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Around China: Classical music grows in popularity in northeast China

By Wang Zichen, Liang Dong and Lu Qiuping (Xinhua)

14:43, November 26, 2011

QIQIHAR, Nov. 26 (Xinhua) -- The sky had already begun to grow dark when Sun Xianggen entered a rehearsal hall in the remote city of Qiqihar on a Wednesday afternoon. However, Sun and his 80 choir students were just getting started for the day, preparing to rehearse songs for their next performance.

Sun, a 50-year-old conductor and dean of Qiqihar's College of Music and Dance in northeast China's Heilongjiang province, organizes rehearsals four times each week in order to prepare for free performances and concerts for the city's 5 million residents.

As 2011 approaches its end, Sun is busy preparing his chorus and symphony orchestra for the New Year holiday. This year marks Sun's 12th New Year concert, and he and his students have a lot of work ahead of them.

"It's not exactly the Vienna Philharmonic's New Year Concert," said Fan Youcai, a public relations officer at the university. "But it has been a huge success every year. People pull strings and use their connections just to get tickets."

Classical music is not as popular as pop or folk music in China, a trend that Sun has worked hard to try to reverse.

"Years ago, the audience didn't know when to applaud at a symphony," said Sun. The conductor recalled an instance in which the university rented out its music hall - the only one in the city until recently - for a corporate meeting.

Sun was indignant. "It's a place for arts," he said.

Sun and his colleagues and students have endeavored to introduce classical music to a region of China that is largely known for its "errenzhuan," or "two-person act," a genre of local folk music that is typically sprinkled with vulgar jokes and sayings.

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